Making space for Indigenous Art

You’re listening to Medicine for the Resistance.

Patty Krawec:   So here we are with Olivia Shortt

Olivia Short:  Hello.

Kerry Goring:  Hello Olivia.

Patty: Yeah, it was kind of funny the way, the way we connected because I got this like random “I want to pitch an article to CBC “and I was like, but I don’t work for CBC. Do you want to be on my podcast?

Olivia:  Yeah,

Patty: I was. So that was just so it just it made me laugh. It was so funny. But the things that you’re working on just sounds so interesting. So yeah, so I jumped on that.

Olivia:  I’m glad, (laughter( , okay, so total honesty here. I had spent two days just emailing anyone I could find like, I went on the list and I found like, your podcasts listed in all these Indigenous podcasts and I was like, oh my god so I started checking them out long but because I was using the same message for the most part, I would just change like detail or two  and let’s say dear whomever I’m speaking to like readjust what I was. Then I fucked up. And I sent it. I was like, well, it’s too late. I’ve messed up already. What do I do?

Patty :  Yeah and then my response was why do you want to be on the podcast? Sounds great.

Olivia: Yay! Okay!

Patty : Yeah, so dear Twitter followers if you’re doing something cool, hit me up. No, because really, Olivia is doing something really cool. And that was why it got my attention. Like we’re all in quarantine. We’re all watching Netflix, and, you know, and reading books, and anybody who thinks the arts aren’t important should cancel their subscriptions. But you’re, this is a little more, you know, but what you’re talking about is really interesting and kind of a little step, step forward, past what we’re all doing on Netflix. So why don’t you tell us about your project and what you’re doing.

Olivia:  I’m a musician, composer sound designer, job titles for this. And last year, I put this application in, I saw this call for submissions from a quartet in New York City called the Jack Quartet, cool contemporary new music type stuff. And so I just picked something by most like what, you know, like, what’s the likelihood? Congrats, you’re one of the six people of over 400 applications was like, Okay, cool.

Patty:  Yay this is happening. Oh no this is happening.

Olivia :  Yeah, it was definitely yay this is happening but just like I couldn’t believe it was they wanted to work with me. And I was like, Okay. Cool, cool, cool, cool, cool. And it was so great because it they were paying to help with the project itself. And because the way they were pitching it was like, they are calling us the Jack Studio instead of the Jack Quartet and they wanted to be kind of in touch with us as we, as we needed and what we wanted, and they were trying to expand who they’d been working with, because it’s a quartet of predominantly white guys. And you know, they’ve been working with a lot of the same really well known people in New York and sort of like over in Europe, but they were feeling like they’re getting kind of stuck working with a lot of same people. So for them, this was a way to really branch out because the wording in the application was so interesting.

They said things like, you don’t necessarily have had to have had, you know, conservatory style training. You don’t have to be a composer in the traditional classical sense of the word. They were looking for people to create things and they were using the word composer because that’s a word people recognize, but it was very cool to just see that this well-known quartet wanted to do something very different outside of their very, like, niche box of experimental music.

And so I have been working with them. I I got to work with them for the first time in December and we did a workshop then in New York City, so you know, it was it was amazing. Like I got to fly down. They, I asked them for some resources like I wanted to have an elder from the area involved with the project. So I reached out to AICH which is the American Indian Community House in New York. And someone there named Rick Travola. He got me in touch with a Lenape elder named George Stonefish, who is like the most amazing human. You know, he comes in, and we had we spoke on the phone a few times before I went down to New York, but he comes in and he’s this tall, beautiful man with like an orange suit on like, jacket and pants. bright orange. He’s got pattern shoes and socks. He’s got all this beautiful turquoise jewelry all over and I was like, wow, yeah. This is the Elder. This is my New York City Elder.

Patty : this is not a picture of what a native elder looks like, so perfect.

Olivia:  I absolutely like he was so wonderful to work with. And like, you know, he gave us a history of like the area that’s known as Manhattan now, he talked about the migration of the Lenape people. And it was wonderful, you know, he spent the first hour with us just talking about the history of the area. And it was great way to kind of like jumpstart this project.

And so, I was writing a quartet for the Jack Quartet. And I brought in all these recordings I found online from like, various national parks of wolves howling, you know, bears growling, and I was just like, how do they make a string quartet sound like a wolf? And we actually figured it out. Like I recorded both sessions. It’s really eerie and kind of beautiful how, like how close they get to the sounds. So it was a lot of that it was a lot of me bringing in recordings like I want this, I want to like figure out how to work this. Yeah, like make you all do this.

And what ended up also coming out of that is that they are partners with a school New York called Face The Music or it’s like an after school program that lives in this big giant high school that if my memory is right, it’s like off of Amsterdam Avenue. And it essentially has five different high schools in it like the bottom has an arts high school and then there’s four other specialist schools.  Before everything happened. I got to meet the students first via stripe. And then in February, I went down to work with them. So I had written another piece that was for this high school. I was working with the jazz band and in the string quartet was going to be involved with that as well.

They had an Indigenous student Is Navajo and she had just moved to New York for her last year of high school because her dad is doing a PhD at Columbia. And so the program director, Vasoo, he really wanted to connect me with this student, especially because like she hadn’t really had a chance to talk with a lot of other indigenous folks in New York today. And I think it sounded like, you know, she was a new student, she’s in grade 12. So she’s probably like, 17 or 18. You know, it’s a little bit hard.

Patty :  And it can be lonely as an indigenous person in the city.

Olivia:  Yeah. And especially like, I don’t know, every time I’ve gone down New York, I love that city, but it is also very, very apparent how far behind they are as far as like just talking about Indigenous people in general and like, what the history of that area is and like, why they haven’t seen an indigenous person, you know, it’s so basic, but

Patty:  yeah, so you wanting to bring in an Indigenous elder to you know, to kind of put a frame around what you were doing is really important because it reminds everybody that we’re here that we’re not like in the distant past somewhere, but that we’re, we’re here in the present and we and we live in this space and, you know, urban spaces are Indigenous land too,  we forget that.

Olivia:  Yeah. And so she was so funny, she got goofy and excited to talk to me and like we’ve just started realizing like we knew a lot of stuff in people in the arts. And you know, her dad, I think is a writer someday then I was just like, this is so cool. And I had wanted George, the elder I’d been working with to also be there in person for the next time I was coming, which was going to be mid-March. And unfortunately, all of those sessions got canceled. We’re supposed to a concert on March 31 in Brooklyn, and of course, that hasn’t happened.

But what has happened is that I was able to bring Georgia in digitally. So we had a zoom rehearsal. George, you know, he spoke to a lot of same things he had he had done when it was just me in the string quartet. But now this was with all these high school students who I had sort of prepped a little bit when I met them in person, but like they got, you know, as much as you can in half an hour, like a really great overview of like that area. And just like, all the things George knows, like, he’s so like, obviously has so much wisdom and so much to offer that it felt like it was the right component to the work I was doing. And so the piece of the high school, they’re mostly High School, sorry, they’re also middle school students, but I was creating sort of a musical land acknowledgement with them. And that was also why I wanted George to be a part of the process. Just because like, I’m not from that area, that’s not my territory. You know, it wouldn’t feel totally right to just be jumping in like I’m gonna make a land acknowledgement!

Patty: how do you do a musical land acknowledgement?

Olivia :  So it’s taken many shapes. The original piece when I wrote it, thinking that we would be doing in person was essentially like a weird jazz band piece but then there were points where they were sort of creating like a base where there was less sound happening. And then some of the students were going to be speaking over top. So I had been working on the text. And my hope was to work with them in person on it. And so that was the original vision was like, there was going to be components where they would be coming up and it was like instead of  soloing on their instrument, they would be doing this speaking the text.,

Patty: Oh neat

Olivia:  Yeah, and I was really excited about this first version of the piece. And then, you know, as quarantine and, you know, the regulations to self-isolate, were coming out and I was like, Okay, well, clearly not going to New York anymore. We ended up trying to figure out like, how to we do this digitally because the program, Face the Music, was really wonderful. They really wanted their kids to stay creative to keep doing stuff. And so we ended up meeting still for rehearsals. And you know, the first rehearsal were like navigating like, how do you deal with 15 students on Zoom?

Patty:  Yeah. And then there’s lag too, right? Because I tried with my drum groups a couple weeks ago, and we were all like, and it’s just a fraction of a beat off. But it was just enough that we collapsed in giggles and couldn’t sing.

Olivia:  It is it is honestly it’s too hard. So then, you know, we started talking about different methods of teaching music, and there’s one composer, Anthony Braxton. He has a lot of work that’s kind of like sound painting but you know, having cues and like giving visual cues with your hands to students. We tried a bit of that and some of that was working, but it was still too hard even when we worked on the audio settings and you know had figured out like maybe how to manage things a bit it was still too difficult to get the sound all to come through. And so then what I’ve ended up doing is a per suggestion actually of the conductor of the band Aakash. He was like, Oh, why don’t we try, you know, making slides. And essentially, I had to rearrange my piece. But I have, you know, like, two or three things on each slide. And the kids just play it. So there’s still some queuing from the director, the conductor and the text is still present. But we’ve ended up kind of, it’s become actually really fun. It’s like very collaborative, and there’s more improvising, like, we’ve had it so that the text is still read straight through but then like, we’re getting a chance to get the kids to kind of play more with like, pulling certain words out, and like really emphasizing the importance of certain words that like maybe they wouldn’t normally be saying You know, like, I think a lot of them were like, co-lon-i-za-tion. And I was like, yeah, that’s the word say it a lot. You’re going to need to

Patty: That’s the word say it a lot.

Olivia:  So that’s like kind of what how that one piece with the students has changed is like, and we’re still working on it actually, I’m going to be working again with them on Sunday with some more updated slides and more text. And then I even like, I got this sort of goofy idea, like, of course of having this original version, because I do want the text to be emphasized still, but then to also kind of do remixes. And I reached out to several DJs. I know and some of them are Indigenous, and some of them are not. And I was just like, I don’t know if I had money to do this yet, but like, would any of you want to do a remix on this, these recordings of high school students doing this piece and I’ve had a lot of interest. So I think I didn’t plan where this is going, and it’s like, I would never have thought of this. Like I you know, of course, this is awful. And I feel really terrible for people in bad situations right now. But when you’re pushed to think differently about something and like, you know, whether it’s artistically or it’s something in your life personally like how to problem solve things, and just being forced to, like, suddenly I had this very, very specific structure of like, well, you’re on zoom, and you have a lot of children. So what are we gonna do and like, how do we make this you know, still a meaningful thing? Like it’s still a land acknowledgement, even though we’re on our computers and thinking now, like, how do we deal with land through, you know, computers and like thinking of where we all are, because like, before, the idea was that we were all in going to be performing in Brooklyn on that land. And now like, I’m in Toronto, and the director like Aakash is currently in Colorado and most of the kids are still in New York City, but some of them have shifted around.

Patty:  And yeah, so tell me a little bit about those discussions around land acknowledgement, being in the different places. What are those discussions been like?  Because I have a lot of thoughts about land acknowledgments. I’m not really crazy about them. But it sounds like really generated some neat, some neat thinking,

Kerry: I would love to hear a little bit about that particular piece as well, because I was at a function the other day, and they did a pseudo land acknowledgment and I say, pseudo because I just leave it that I’m not even going to tell what it was it was before COVID but my thoughts came completely to you, Patty, and I was like, I get why Patty has some thoughts about here, what what your thoughts are,

Olivia:  of course, and I can only guess from my own experience, like what potentially some of your thoughts are on land and judgments Because I’ve also seen the spectrum of good to terrible, and, you know, well intentioned to poorly intentioned, and I think that’s the big factor is like, what people’s intentions are. And like, why are they doing it? I think a lot of people don’t ask themselves why they’re doing it. And it just becomes this weird thing that they’re like, well, the Ontario government says, I have to do this or I lose my funding.

Patty :  Oh and that’s exactly it.

Olivia:  or I’m a bad ally, if I don’t do my land acknowledgement, yeah.

Patty:  Those are the really tiresome ones.

Kerry: Yeah, that that one, that felt very real to me,

Olivia:  I think for me, because, because I’m involved with it. And also because we had an elder involved with it and what’s great, or at least what I find great about this program that I’ve been working with, actually, everyone I’ve been working with in New York so far has been an amazing like from the Jack Quartet to Face the Music, also, and there’s some venues that we like even the venues we were supposed to perform at, you know, I was talking with some of them about certain things opening up later. But I think the questions I was asking people were like, they were new to them, but they were just like, Okay, well, if this is what you need, and like, you’re wanting to come from this like lens that we haven’t dealt with before, let’s figure out how we can make this happen. So I find kids, like even, you know, I had middle school kids to upper high school kids, so they’re probably like 12 to 18. They’re very open, and they’re not dumb. And a lot of them are like a lot of the kids in that band. They’re a mix of white and non-white students, but like they what was so nice was so nice is I would I was a little nervous because I was just like, Oh my gosh, like, how do I present this to these students without also coming across like I speak On behalf of all Indigenous people, because like, I don’t

Patty:  What to all the Indians think?

Olivia:  yeah, and I didn’t want that to happen, I was just like, and that that was a little bit of my own fear and just, you know, from past experiences where you’re like, I only represent this tiny sliver of an entire community of peoples, like, please understand that. And I said that to them. I was just like, just, you know, like, these are my opinions. This is what I grew up with. This is my experience. It does not mean this goes for everyone.

And they were so open everything like they were just there wanting to ask questions like, about what words to use and like they like is like, Indian bad and like, Okay, well, let’s, let’s talk about this. Like, let’s talk about, you know, history and language and also speaking in English and coming from other languages like, it was really good. That’s what I want to say is like, I was so surprised that I’ve had the dumbest conversations with adults and it was where they’re not well intentioned, and they’re just like wanting to ask you because they think you’re like in a zoo or something.

But I found these students were just so smart. And they were so with it, and they’re like, Oh, yeah, cool. And like I even brought, when I saw them in person, I had brought some sage with me and I brought my container and I have an eagle feather. And I was like, let’s talk about like, I just wanna show you the things I used to smudge and like, this is why I do it. And I think it was just because they’re so receptive, like I’ve had a great experience with them. And also, most of the people in charge of Face the Music, you know, a lot of them come from different backgrounds. And it’s nice because it’s not led by a white man. And I like I’m going to be blunt it does make a difference when you’re in spaces where you’re like there are folks of color there Black people, there are Indigenous people. It makes a huge difference to how things are received.

Patty:  Absolutely different things get prioritized. Different, you know, the what we think of as normal is different. Right? I mean, like, we talked with Hannah a few weeks ago about doing her PhD, without referencing any white men, which came down to how do I keep settler colonialism out of my, you know, out of out of my material? Because, you know, mostly that looks like old white men, but not necessarily. So yeah, having different, you know, having different people in charge in places of real decision making, as opposed to just, you know, the token at the table, right? You know, in places of real decision making. It does, it makes a huge difference in what you’re able to do and, and how you can talk about things. It makes a big, big difference.

Olivia:  Yeah, and I guess what I wanted to also talk about were some things that even though the live presentations, you know, the in person live presentations is what I’m meaning are not happening. The things I was discussing with both the string quartet and also the Kauffman center. Which is we’re going to be performing in a hall at this venue. It’s kind of like it’s not far from the Lincoln Center. And when I was talking to them, some of the things I had pitched was like wanting to have an Indigenous marketplace. You know, just in being able to invite some local artists to come and sell. And I, you know, I just I’ve had so much pushback in my life on very small things like this friend, like, I’m so afraid to ask, but I’m going to ask anyways because who cares? Yeah. And, you know, it amazes me like, they were like, Oh, we’ve never had that before. But like, what what do you imagine it as and I was like, like a few tables and people setting up their things and being able to sell.

Patty: Haven’t you been to a Powwow before:

Olivia :  I know, like, clearly not, but, you know, they were very open to the idea that they’re like, oh, okay, and you know, they’re like, when I explain things like you know, this way also, I guarantee that there’s going to be more indigenous people in the space.

Patty:  Yeah, that’s true, because we’re all going to come to buy the earrings.

Olivia: Yeah. Like, if you do this, you’re going to change the makeup of your audience, maybe not drastically, but enough that like you’re going to see not an entire audience of white people.  And it makes a difference to like how I will feel in that space, how other people will feel in that space. So that was, you know, like one of many things. And I had been talking before to Leslie Hampton about renting a dress from her for the performance and it was supposed to be happening in May.

This was the other piece with the Quartet. You know, like asking for those sorts of things was like, talking to a quartet be like, I really want to rent a dress from an Iindigenous designer. Like I’m not performing but I just want that and I like that will the idea of being able to spend money on other artists and also bring their work in and show their work off in some way? Whether it’s me wearing it or having, you know, vendors selling their work like artists who are who are living in New York, it just like it makes such a difference.

So it was, these were the sorts of things I was asking for. And I don’t know why I was always so afraid. But like, it never stopped me from asking, but it still was always like, Oh my god, I’m going to ask this question. And I like, I don’t know why I’m panicking. But I do know why I’m panicky, right, like, it was. So that was a big thing for me was working with these interesting artists.

Patty:  It’s something that I find often with, you know, with Black and indigenous Artists are, you know, we get to us, you know, people get to a certain position, and then they want to start they want to draw others in.  You know, and it’s a much different way of thinking than you know, you know, I got famous and now I have my entourage. It’s okay. I have a platform, whether you know, it’s music or you  know, like our podcasts, you know, we’ve got this, you know, whoever you have Wgot, who can I draw in? whose voices can I amplify? And what artists? What artists can I bring in so that these people coming to hear this music will have something visual as well as what they’re listening to, you know? Or they can you know, they can see us because even though it’s 2020, and there have been a lot of movies made since Dances with Wolves, that’s still the idea that people have of us. Right? That’s still the idea that people have of us and when they think of Indigenous music, so often what they’re thinking about, at best is maybe like Buffy Sainte Marie and A Tribe Called Red, which are both great, but that’s not the kind of music you’re making know what you’re making. It’s Indigenous music because an Indigenous person is making it.

Olivia : I know. And I guess on that note, like, I saw, I didn’t really talk about where I came from, or my practice or what I do. I just thought jumped in. I’m really sorry.

Patty: No, we do that all the time. This is typical.

Olivia: Amazing, Yeah, I so I studied something super niche. I studied classical saxophone, technically, like, it’s not from the classical period, you know, you think of Mozart and that his music is actually from the classical period. And then we, you know, we talk in areas like the Romantic Period. But classical saxophone, it is really more like neo classical. You know, it’s borrowing a lot from music that has been already generated from the last few hundred years. And the saxophone wasn’t even invented until the 1800s. So that instrument is not even 200 years old.

And honestly, most of the people who kind of were like the iconic,  first figures of what classical saxophone is thought of, you know, they were based in Europe. And a lot of them were borrowing ideas from things like violin playing. So you know, you’ll you’ll hear a lot of like vibrato that’s very similar to violin playing. And that’s sort of like one train of thought in the classical saxophone world. So a lot of people were basing their ideas of what classical saxophone would be off of other instruments.

And the thing is, it’s one of these weird instruments and I this is why I think they relate to my choice of study. It doesn’t really fit in with a lot of things like, you know, be inventor of the saxophone tried to kind of get it into orchestras and stuff like that. And it just never fully worked. It can be a very loud instrument, and it can easily overpower other sections. Right? So easy to do that. And I think that’s why I love it, because I’m kind of a loud person. I’m like, Oh, it’s a loud instrument. It’s perfect for me.

Classical saxophonists actually end up doing a lot of sort of experimental music, and I studied that I like loved it. But I also hated studying classical music. And I have several pieces of paper in classical saxophone. Um, and I ended up actually pulling away from that for a little while and trying to figure stuff out, like, why am I doing this art form that is, in my eyes, fairly problematic because you have to have money oftentimes to study any form of classical music. You know, instruments cost a lot. Now, saxophones are on the cheaper end of things like if you’re a violin player, I feel so bad for those people. Violins can be  so expensive. Saxophones like to give you an idea. The alto saxophone I have is a few thousand dollars. And then I have a bigger one, that’s the baritone saxophone and it is like the price of a small car. So you know, it’s so expensive and like I paid these over years, saving up and working and all that, but it’s just like, it’s so easy to spend money. So if you aren’t rich, it’s a really hard art form to be in.

And, you know, like, like everyone else. I feel like I’m going on a tangent a little bit. But you know, it’s like every art form is like, how do we deal with diversity? How do we talk about this? And it’s like, well, the first problem in classical music and Opera, and those art forms is that you have expensive instruments. So, you know, you see a program like El Sistema, where they’re trying to get kids, you know, violins and cellos, lend on to them or get them really cheap, and people donate them, but it’s like, it’s still hard to get that kind of out to a bigger audience. And so like, that’s obviously the first problem.  I’m giving you this context bBecause this is also fueled a lot of my feelings about like, what art I’ve decided to make and who I make it with. Right? Yeah. I find classical music to be incredibly problematic. And I just like, have a love hate relationship with it. So I think I’ve ended up kind of going into the weird territory of stuff because I feel much more accepted.

Kerry:  I’m recognizing your journey. And it’s it’s very much an interesting space that I am hearing you talk about here in so much that, you know, as much as there may have been a love for classical and I’m sure it’s still very real. You’re recognizing how yet again, the colonial system and some of the tendrils that come through through that realm, affect who can even access that realm of music.

And when I think about Black and Indigenous people, we come from a heart and soul place, you know, the music is in our blood. It is it is about the drums it is about that heartbeat that we exist in. And, um, you know, when you meld it into this idea of the classical world It sounds very much like that that’s the element of not just privilege, but capitalism. Let’s just call it out. Capitalism allows for that space to be very real, and how many, how many I know some actually classically trained operatic Black singers, opera singers and and you know the talent is there but just getting the access to those spaces are much more challenging. We see these stories over and over again, you know what I mean? Certain things or certain elements of, of society if I want to use that word, are just you know, a little more difficult for challenging for us of color of Indigenous peoples to access

Olivia: Right. And and on that point, like, I get frustrated when I see things like, governments trying to cut funding, so the first thing that always goes is the arts. And it’s really scary because oftentimes school programs like middle school and high school programs, they have instruments, whether they’re good quality or not, is another question, but at least they have instruments that students can access. And sometimes that’s the only way they can access it. So it’s just, like, heartbreaking for me when I see that because it’s like, you know, there’s so many kids who are never going to, they’re not going to be able to keep doing music because they can’t rent an instrument. So you’ve just taken away everything from them that like might really be fulfilling for them.

Patty;  A woman I know who is a musician had contacted me, I have a little fundraiser and they knew of they knew somebody up in their community, this boy’s  got ADHD and but but they felt that you know, he’d do really well with a keyboard something about music would be able to help control you know the jackrabbits in his head. And I was able to provide that for him that was you know, just really fortunate little shout out to all my patrons on Pay Your Rent because you guys made that happen. You know, I was able I was able to get a keyboard sent delivered to them. And and those kinds of things matter and like the, you know.

I kind of joked a bit about at the beginning about how you know, with anybody who’s been enjoying Netflix over the quarantine better keep their mouth shut about canceling funds for the arts. But there’s some truth to that too, right? Because these are what you know, whether it’s you know, they doofy jack Ryan CIA propaganda that I’m watching or, you know, that the Unorthodox documentary or film that was just out, I don’t know, if you’ve had have seen that yet. It’s called Unorthodox. It’s a four part about a young woman. It’s based on a true story about a young woman who left a ultra-orthodox community in Brooklyn, and went off on her own is a true story. And it was fascinating. But these are the stories of our lives, right? Like even that doofy jack Ryan thing, there are people who feel that way and think that way. And these are the stories of their lives.

And they’re the stories that we tell each other about what it means to be normal and how to be human. And we do it in music, too. You know, music brings up all of these feelings. Yeah. And every culture has music. Every culture around the world makes music in one way or another. And yet, somehow by no surprise to me, the colonial West has managed to make it an elitist thing that only certain people can afford. And the rest of us are out, you know, beating the drums, in Chicago they got those kids are beating on the I mean, they sound amazing. But, you know, but then that’s kind of been created into something else. And that just speaks to what you had said earlier about. We get put in these situations and we find a way.

Kerry;  If you really want to understand the pulse and the heartbeat of a society, it is the artisans, it’s the artists, dancers, it’s the singers. It’s the musicians that really have a pulse and place in the ultimate cultural understandings of that society. And one of the major factors that were coming to mind as you were speaking about that amazing thing Patty of that, getting that keyboard out to that young gentleman. I am thinking of a friend of mine, who is an art an artist on so many levels. She’s She’s a painter, you know, she is a dancer. She’s also, she’s also a Gosh, what do we say a musician as well. And we were talking recently, where she has managed to land some grant money and was was, has developed a program to deal with trauma that has been evolved in the dance space, particularly for this particular part of her genre, in the dance space for Black and Indigenous women of color.

And it was such a unique proposal that she put together. I have never even thought about that, that when you go into the world and what she was speaking to is going out into the world, as a Black person or as an Indigenous woman, and what you encounter in this highly competitive world versus you know, The the outlay of what your body is expected to be and now offering a healing space, her program is based upon offering a healing space for women who have encountered this as artists. And so she just arranged his entire space where women could come together and just dance dance out there sorrows, dance out their pain, dance out the entire, you know, the trauma of that. And so it brought to mind as we’re talking about this, how real even that element is for us that even as we are, you know, incredibly evolving and in our artistry, we still deal and come up against the brutality, of being of color of being Indigenous in this colonial system that’s deciding what is art

Patty;  This circles back around right to your to your project, right. The Body Remembers, right?

Olivia:  Yeah. So the piece itself, so the piece, we’re just the string quartet, the I was calling it the body remembers, partially because I, I had been reading various articles online. And I was doing a lot of research on what sort of what was the situation in the US as far as what was known about, you know, statistics regarding Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two Spirit people. Because I had a feeling that it probably wasn’t quite in the same place. Like, you know, we now have a list of a lot of people’s names and like, we know specific statistics about how each person went missing or what was last time they were seen when, how old they were, we have  photos. You know, it’s still not totally comprehensive but and so when I went to look at the work they are doing in the US  and what’s going on, it is awful.

Like, it was so atrocious to see how little is known about this genocide of women and to spare people in girls in the US. And just that, like the US has a record, I think of a few hundred cases, it might not even be that much. And that, as far as volunteer work has sort of proven is that there’s at least 6000 from the last few decades, but that’s probably not even correct, either. So it’s so messed up. And I was trying to figure out because I had been reading Billy Ray Belcourt’s essay  “The Body Remembers”, and then there’s also a film with that title. That’s, and I just was wondering, like, what is a way to talk about this through music that’s not also gimmicky. Like I don’t want to be like, let’s talk about this super serious issue and like put myself on a weird pedestal because that’s messed up in its own way. And I don’t want to also like elevate the bodies of Indigenous people in this way that’s like, we’re so tragic, like look at our trauma.

And so, when I had been, when I was writing the work in sort of its original form, I wasn’t making anything deliberate, there was not really going to be any text or anything to point out to deathly what the piece was actually really like where it was coming from. I was wanting to more create, in a way a soundscape of different areas and those times imagining in my head so that’s why I had like the recordings of the wolf howls and I even had these train sounds, I was trying to get some percussive effects there with the strings. And, but what I was also was wanting to do in talking with the venue was to have a few sort of like, I’ll call them a little initiatives that I was asking them to do, you know, in addition to this marketplace, was I wanted to have tickets available to different Indigenous organizations from around the area. And that if people want to come, they could come that there would be a certain, like allotment available. And also I wanted to raise money for research around missing and murdered Indigenous Women Girls and Two Spirit people. And so I still want to do things, but it’s trying to figure out how to change that because, yeah, so that project is a little bit more fuzzy as to how we’re going to finish that string quartet.

So that project is a little bit more fuzzy as to how we’re going to finish that string quartet. We may, I’m not really sure yet to be honest, like we’re still, I’m literally still in the process of re-imagining a lot of my works right now, just to .. Because I don’t want to lose the steam that we’ve been able to get like I had started contacting some artists in New York for the marketplace and I had already reached out to some organizations about finding out like, how to set up a donation. What are the logistics of you know, giving someone money, but you know, I’m goofing around about this, but like, I started trying to think like, if this does end up being an online thing, it’s like, how do you get this information out?  We were originally going to have like a printed program. And in my notes, I had some information, like statistics of how many missing people were known as far as the government was concerned and then how many, you know, had people voluntarily researched to find out the statistics. And so I had some of those things in there. And, you know, I had some portions of Billy Ray’s essay in my program notes. So I think what I’m going to work towards is still finding a way to livestream it. Like maybe we’ll end up recording all four parts separately and just kind of play it live. You know, play it live, but you’ll be like,

Patty:  Did you hear the Appalachian Spring?  Well, that was what they did. They had everybody record so they had the conductor kinda keep time. So I don’t I don’t he explained it, but I don’t remember. But they had him and so then everybody, they got their, you know, they got his part. And then they play their part according to the way he was conducting. And then he edited it all together. And it’s like if you if you do a search on Appalachian Spring, It’s an extraordinary piece,  the video is beautiful. It’s the Aaron Copeland piece so it’s beautiful music. But yeah, it was just it was and just visually, it’s really neat because as as they play their instruments, they kind of pop up in the video and you kind of see them. It’s really it’s really a cool, it’s really a neat video. It just came to mind when you said, but maybe recording everybody and put them together because that’s what he did.

Olivia:  Yeah, and I think that’s what I will have to do because I still want this to come out in some way. And I guess I don’t want to lose the opportunity to also raise money for research because there’s an obvious need for the research. Statistics help like it’s such a. I know it seems like maybe it’s such a small thing, but having those numbers out there to show people to show police why they need to do this work, I think is so valuable. And even though you know I’m not a US citizen. I you know, it’s like family. You want to make sure you take care of your people. And so I want to still raise money, like whether it’s like maybe a tip system like through PayPal or something, but find a way to still be able to raise money and support this, this kind of work.

Patty:  It’s really creative things that artists are doing is, you know, we get forced into corners and we figure stuff out, right? I mean, that’s Black and indigenous people have been doing for centuries. We’re getting pushed into corners, and we figure stuff out. They keep trying to erase us and we keep making noise. So …

Kerry:  we have survived as a people for so long. I mean, yes, this is something and it’s, you know, take a little stock and notice, but there is something that’s very sure in my truth, that just allows me to know, you know what, we will get through this too, because we know how to survive. That is in our essence in our whole way of being.

Patty:  Yeah, well, I was laughing. I follow Kelly Hayes on Facebook and Twitter. She’s brilliant. But she had made a comment she’s, I’m  gonna forget now so I’m not even gonna try to say it. She’s also she’s also Indigenous, one of the Woodlands people. And she had, she had posted a thing about you know, back in the days when illness would come, we knew to scatter. And we scattered in our family groups out into the bush. And we stayed and we lived in the bush for a few months until it was safe to come back. So we understood social distancing long before anybody else did. We got it.

So what else are you doing with your time? I’m just looking at the time it is getting ready to wind down so what else are you doing with your time? Olivia, or is this really consuming everything?

Olivia:  Um, this is actually only a part of my time right now. Uh, you know, I kind of went through a few phrases I you know, when you’re grieving kind of like the loss of certain things, and it’s the loss of and I feel a little selfish saying this, but it’s just the loss of freedom to travel and to see people and to hug people, I think, yeah, the big one for me, but the first week or so I wasn’t doing much of this quarantine. I think I was just trying to figure out how I felt. And then eventually I kind of missed being creative.

And in working with the school and the students from Face the Music. It’s kind of invigorating. They’re really sweet kids. They’re just like, so open minded. So ready to do whatever, that I was like, Oh, yeah, I feel this, this is like the kind of recharge I needed.

So I’m doing a couple live streams. I the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance has been doing live streams they started last week, I think. So I’m doing one of those on Monday. It’s gonna be super weird. I can tell you that now. When they said they picked feels like, like, again, I should be more confident . But I was like, Are you sure? Like you really you want this like I pitched I sent them a video from Weesageechak  Festival, which Native Earth does every year to works in development festival. And I have done this super weird piece that essentially was like a version of myself.  But way over the top like I was this kind of catty extra over the top performer whose cat had just died. And she was dedicating her whole world tour to this cat named Mr. Boots. And there was like a slide presentation I made and I was like, it was so over the top. And so I sent that to them. I was just like,

Patty: Yeah. Let’s see what happens.

Olivia:  like cats. The Internet people love this, right? Yeah. Okay. You’re sending me money to do this cool, so I’m doing that and then I, I do other things outside of music. So I’m working with Buddies in Bad Time theater, and I’m in their emerging creators unit. So I’ve been working on a script with them. And I was supposed to present it at the pride festival in June. And obviously like that’s not happening. So I saw that the National Theatre School was having a call for applications for their hashtag art apart live streams. And so I’m going to be presenting my script in June, as part of one of those live streams,

I’m working with a composer named Raven Chacon.  He’s Navajo, but it’s actually been living in Toronto because his wife is one of the people working on the Toronto biennial. And so I met him last year because there was a festival in Toronto, like dedicated to him at the music gallery. And I opened for him on the last night and he, like, at some point emailed me after I was like, can I write you a piece and I was like, Yeah, I love Music. So, we have reconnected and we’re talking again about kind of like he’s finishing that off. And we’re gonna start like, working on it, like seeing how it works out over zoom. And I don’t know where it’s gonna go yet, but that’s another project and the workflow, like I have a lot of these sort of things that are kind of like, we’ll see, like, who knows how things are going, you know, I checked my email every day to be like, I applied to a lot of things before this quarantine came up.  And like, what if they say yes, and they’re, like, this is not a bad thing, but like, I’m potentially gonna have a lot of things. What if they say yes, yeah, so that’s kind of where I’m at. I’m like back into being creative. I was doing a lot of arts and crafts and will not lie, I’ve used a lot of hot glue over the last four weeks. I can even show you something that’s right beside me.

Because this is a podcast. I’ll describe it, but essentially I glued like hundreds of feathers to what was a mold like I took all of this like gold paper that Oh, good. But like I was there my roommates watch me and I’m just like yeah, this is what I’m doing today. Whoo. But I like had put all these plastic bags over my body and then was gluing this gold paper to it to essentially sit on me for a bit make a mold of my shoulders and then I took it off let it dry and then I started gluing like feathers and pom poms to it. I was a little bit inspired like this was like a pride version of Leslie Hampton’s like feather piece for Iskwe. It like I know mine just looks like I’m going to Mardi Gras.

*models very colourful and feathered cape thing*

Kerry: I love it. You are an artiste, I love it. Good for you.

*laughter*

Patty: You’re amazing. I have so enjoyed this conversation. And this isn’t really it’s a much different conversation. I mean, we’ve had some pretty heavy conversations about race lately.

Olivia:  Yeah,

Patty:  this has been just so delightful. But it’s also important to remember that we’re in these spaces. And what we need to do to make these spaces accessible. And, you know, and so really, so if you come across an Indigenous youth who need some help with an instrument, you know, to hit me up, again, saxophone that costs about the price of a small car, but I might be able to help them out with a keyboard or something, maybe a recorder.

Olivia:  There are saxophones that are less like, but still still expensive, like student model saxophones, like a decent one is probably five to $800. So it’s really costly. Yeah.

Patty:  Well, thank you so much for joining us Olivia and for the random message. It was the best

Olivia:  Thank you for not thinking I was so dumb for doing that. I will say I did talk to Waubgeshig Rice on CBC so I did get to go on CBC.

Kerry:  Thank you, Olivia. You were amazing. I really enjoyed this., this  episode our podcast today.

Patty:  Okay, bye

Olivia: bye

You can find Medicine for the Resistance on Facebook and the website http://www.med4R.com . Don’t forget to rate share and support us by buying us a coffee at https://www.ko-fi.com/medicinefortheresistance.   You can also support the podcast and so much more by going to https://www.patreon.com/PayYourRent.  You can follow Patty on Twitter @gindaanis and at daanis.ca  you can follow Kerry @kerryoscity  and find her online at kerrygoring.com  our theme is fearless.

Please check out the art of:

Lesley Hampton: https://lesleyhampton.com/

The Jack Quartet:  http://jackquartet.com/

Face the Music: https://www.kaufmanmusiccenter.org/ftm/

Support Sistema: https://www.sistema-toronto.ca/

Native Earth Performing Arts: https://www.nativeearth.ca/

The Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance: https://ipaa.ca/

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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